TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 9 May 2013
On my shelves since 1986, part of my complete collection of Barbara Vine psychological mysteries, this story is still crisp and fresh, safely encapsulated into the fifties' time warp recreated so credibly by BV/aka Ruth Rendell in her prime. I reached for it with a desire for some faded black and white movie elegance, that rainy Sunday afternoon mood. A Dark Adapted Eye is gently paced, quietly sinister, a measured reminder of the crippling, cruel consequences of being at odds with the morals and mores of that uptight time.
Faith, a quaint blend of the second Mrs. de Winter and a character from Anita Brookner, is our patiently probing narrator. She is an onlooker who was badly hurt in the crossfire, `branded' by her family association with Aunt Vera (whose name also means Faith). Vera goes to the gallows, a now barbaric seeming death, but capital punishment was still on the statute books then. What is so especially poignant and touching here is the polite, informative way in which we are told of those `different times'. Not really so long ago, within my lifetime, however the stomach churning fear of disgrace, losing face, being cast out was so terrible and true as to completely bend and deform what could have been happy lives.
BV slowly, carefully, cements the random facts into place, completing a construction so perfect, so professional, it seems that we are reading what must be a true, historical account. She builds a buttress wall of perceived and acknowledged truths; holding back the boiling, violent, animal emotions that raged behind the firmly closed doors of propriety, shoring up impossibly high moral standards. At no time are we quite sure what the conclusion will be. Midway through, another mystery is exposed, one of lost babies, little children taken from their prams, inappropriate blaming which caused dreadful damage, life long misery. This is gradually unpicked, almost by accident and forms a branch of the book that does apparently come to a probable resolution.
Expertly recreating that tight tense family atmosphere, BV has written a complicated tale which rewards rereading, she has an eagle eye for human frailty, a sympathetic understanding of the inhibition Faith felt in the presence of Vera, Francis and Eden. Faith's view point is unique and sharp, she is the one they hardly notice but yet, in the end, sorts out what has to happen quite beautifully.